Don’t Mess With Them
The Legislative Mechanics of Texas Feminism
If you weren’t watching the livestream (courtesy of The Texas Tribune; that link is to their excellent morning-after piece) you missed an astounding piece of drama. I only caught the last 90 minutes, but wow.
The charisma and eloquence of Senator Davis were remarkable. By the time I started watching, she’d been silenced by the Republican legislators’ tactics and spoke only with her erect presence, watching and smiling.
Gaming the System
I don’t think the transparent sleaze of the efforts to rule her out of order was all that terrible. The whole point of being governed by elected legislatures is that it’s rule-based, and wherever there are rules they can be gamed, and that’s OK. Ms Davis gamed the rules to head off an awful piece of law that would restrict access to abortion to rich women in urban centers. The Republicans gamed the rules to try to push it through. The real issue is the legislated policy, not the legislative tactics.
Looking past the real issue, those tactics were pretty damn gripping to watch. At 2:57AM Texas time, the bill was officially dead; and, if I may be forgiven a view through baseball lenses, this was small ball; Hustling out a bouncer to first, getting to second on a sacrifice and third on a passed ball; then beating the throw home on a short fly-out.
First, Wendy Davis held the floor for all those hours and kept the openings for opportunistic Points of Order to a minimum; forcing the Repubs way into transparent-overreach territory.
Second, the immense legislative skill of the Democratic Senators in running out the clock. There were lots of them, but in particular, the lawyerly silver-haired lizard-skinned slow-talking Texas-drawling Senator Kirk Watson burned an incredibly valuable 15 minutes or so of the last hour politely dissecting the finer points of the motion to close debate on the motion to appeal the ruling on the motion to kill Wendy Davis’ filibuster so they could pass the motion. I’d hire that guy to represent me in a complicated big-money litigation, any time.
Third, the eloquence and timing of Senator Van de Putte, rushed to the debate from her father’s funeral, carefully ignored by the Republican chair as she ventured a procedural delaying tactic, raising the stakes from rules-gaming to gender-politics with “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”
Which only reinforced the visual context: pudgy old white Republican men silencing strong-voiced women speaking for other women. This can’t be good for them, electorally.
Fourth, the activists in the gallery who, when the majority had mercilessly squished all the Democratic legislative tactics, just started screaming and wouldn’t shut up till the clock ran out. At ten minutes to midnight, I said to my wife, equally fascinated beside me on the sofa, “That gallery has staying power” and yeah, they did.
The real inside-baseball Texas-legislature cognoscenti will have more to say about how the Republican backup chair was out-dueled by the Democratic point-of-parliamentary-inquiry veterans, on average at least twenty years older than him by the look of them. But at the end of the day it wouldn’t have worked if a bunch of ordinary people hadn’t come to scream at the people they elected; and I can’t imagine a more fundamental exercise of democratic power.
What a show. My faith in the usefulness of democracy is refreshed. And I’m not even American.
Sidebar: I published this on my blog as Texas Politics; Evan Hansen reached out and wondered if I’d like to run it here. I’m perfectly happy with my blog and not sure what (if any) the benefits of being in Medium are; so let’s find out, since while I don’t get paid, it also doesn’t cost me anything.